Solar panels for camping (Introduction)

by Administrator 15 July 2012

DIY solar panel kit for campingI love camping, but I also love my gadgets... so I want electricity when I am camping with the family. The only thing I don't like about having electricity at the camping ground is that as a tent camper you are usually stuck between the campers and caravans instead of getting the nicer pitches for tents. 

So I decided to build a small solar system to meet our camping needs. I wanted a fairly portable system that would keep our devices working, even if the weather was not perfect. 

First of all we need to calculate our camping electricity needs, I made a list of the following gear:

Device Battery Charge time
Smart phone 1800 mAh battery (lasts about 36 hours) 3-4 hours at 5 watts
Laptop 90 W/hr battery (lasts 9 hours) 3-4 hours at 40 watts
Archos 35 Home connect radio 400 mAh battery (lasts 4 hours) 1-2 hours at 5 watts
Rechargable lamps/torches diverse  2-3 hours at 5 watts
Fridge * no battery 75 watts continuous

* We need approx 1.8kWh to keep our fridge running for 24 hours at 12 volts, so I scrapped that idea... We'll be running the fridge on gas until we get ourselves a more energy efficient one. (probably something that Waeco makes) Remember my goal is self sufficiency, not 100% solar electricity.

Now that we know our use we can calculate what we need in terms of batteries. In short, when determining the size of the battery you need make sure to double the capacity as most batteries will last longer if not fully discharged (50% discharge is a maximum for lead-acid batteries). See the Wind-Sun forums for much more information and advice if you need it. (don't bother with solar panel talk, they're the most unfriendly bunch of people I've ever come across in a forum)

I decided that 8 Amp hours (AH) would be more than sufficient for my daily needs, so I ordered the following parts:

  • 12 volt,  20 Amp hour deep cycle battery (don't get a standard car battery!)
  • 2 x 18 volt, 20 watt solar panels from ebay
  • Solar charge controller (cheap one from ebay)
  • Wiring, fuses, diverse other stuff

In total I spent about 150 euros on parts. With electricity rates at camping grounds averaging 2-3 euros per day it will take us at least 8 weeks of camping to make this financially worthwhile (not including the extra gas for the fridge). But the goal here is not to save money, we are doing this to get a better pitching location for the tent. Being able to pitch the tent next to the lake of river instead of between the caravans makes this all worthwhile to us.

* Please note, I am learning as I go along. If there are any incorrect facts above, please let me know by leaving a comment. Thanks

Part 1: Solar panels for camping (Introduction) 
Part 2: Sourcing the parts needed for our DIY solar camping setup
Part 3: Testing the panels and charge controller
Part 4: Assembling the Camping Solar system

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